Egging Me On: Sickle's Take on "The Northman"

The Northman follows a Viking prince who sets out on a journey of bloody revenge after the murder of his father and capture of his mother at the hands of his uncle.


[This movie was seen in theaters at the time of this review.]

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The Northman Review


Firstly, it is worth noting that I of course don't consider The Northman to be a horror movie. Eggers' first two films of acclaim, The Witch and The Lighthouse, were both more fitting in the genre, and it is with that in mind that I felt it worth watching and reviewing The Northman despite its less tangible horror elements. That isn't to say that The Northman is devoid of the dark and macabre. In some ways it is a dark fantasy epic that is gruesome and unrelenting. In other ways, perhaps most ways, it is a tragic historical fiction that plays like a Viking interpretation of "Hamlet meets Valhalla". It's cold, drab, and dire, with a relentless atmosphere of downtrodden disdain that latches onto the mythologies and rituals of the culture and times with the utmost dedication...in other words, it is still very clearly an Eggers' movie.


For me (and perhaps this speaks to my inadequacies as a patron of the cinematic arts), this movie takes significant mental fortitude to survive. The thick dialogue is persistent from beginning to end, requiring the utmost attention to catch the nuance of the plot. It is not only spoken in many ways like the Vikings from which it is based, but with a poetry that makes the deciphering of certain moments a struggle. This isn't new, as both of Eggers' previous films had a similar cadence, one which has made him a top name on lists of up-and-coming directors (if he's not already there). It is something that I equally respect, but also find tiresome, especially at a runtime that is over two hours.


But that isn't a fault, merely an observation, as most of this review will be. I loved the commitment to the Viking culture, diving deep into their mythology and rituals. These moments are interesting, but sometimes they can feel a bit repetitive as they start to seemingly oversaturate scenes between plot points. The berserker scenes are a particularly intriguing concept that I loved, as the berserker is a unique, yet familiar, "weapon" of early war in which a mindset of animalistic invincibility instilled. The portrayal of this aspect of Viking battles felt real and interesting from the historical perspectives Eggers embraces.


The fantasy elements are subtle, nuanced, and rarely visceral. There are moments when they rear their head to prove not merely an illusion, but they are still kept at a proper distance to keep the plot grounded and human. The performances are fantastic from everyone involved, which is nothing unexpected from such a stellar cast. The writing is, per usual, substantial in its cultural engagement and dedication. There is little to fault the film on, yet, I must admit, there is something for me when watching an Eggers movie.


With my viewing of The Northman, perhaps Eggers' most anticipated film for me, it is decidedly apparent that his films just aren't for me. I am constantly conflicted during and following viewings of his films that I was both impressed and discontented in equal measure. There is a craft and style, a true dedication, that is obvious in Eggers' works. I am in awe of it and have such a massive respect for it. But, to be blunt for a lack of reasonable words, and to the point of embarrassment towards my own lack of sophistication, I find myself bored and overburdened by the thick and drab historical immersion. As I have said many times before, I put significant value in a movie for its rewatchability, which is a personal attribution I carry because of my love for encasing myself in films of substance and entertainment in equal measure. And while I have the utmost respect, admiration, and appreciation for Eggers' works, I have virtually no interest in watching them again. Which leaves me in utter conflict with how to rate his art, but at the end of the day, we all have our subjectivities with which we approach art and I am no different. I'll still see his next movie with excitement.


Horror Rating System

Horror Qualifier: 5/10

Horror Quality: 4/10

Film Quality: 7/10


#thenorthman #roberteggers #thewitch #thelighthouse